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Remarks on the Merida Initiative

David T. Johnson, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Remarks Before the U.S. -Mexico Chambers of Commerce
Washington, DC
March 11, 2008

Good afternoon. President Zapanta, Ambassador Sarukhan, Chairman Reyes, Chairman Engel, Congressman Sires, Congressman McCaul, Secretary Johnson and other distinguished guests, I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of such a panel to discuss with you the Merida Initiative -- an important partnership we’re working to advance between the United States, Mexico and Central America.

This multi-year initiative will address our common threats to our security: drug smuggling, trafficking in arms and people, and the violence that inevitably accompanies these crimes and threatens the rule of law on both sides of our shared border. Drug- and gang-related violence has reached new levels in Mexico and Central America and it now threatens U.S. communities along the border and beyond. I recently had the opportunity to visit El Paso and meet with Chairman Reyes and I came away with a clear understanding that border communities that depend on cross-border commerce are especially vulnerable to drug-fueled violence.

As you may know, approximately 90% of the cocaine consumed in the United States transits Mexico and a majority of the methamphetamine consumed here is produced there. Clearly, new ideas, a new political commitment, new investments and new approaches are needed to combat the threat of organized crime and the flow of narcotics into the United States from Mexico and Central America.

The Merida Initiative grew out of conversations President Bush had with Mexican President Calderon in Merida last March when our two Presidents grappled with how we might work together to confront this burgeoning threat to our common security. As a result of these discussions, on October 22, 2007, President Bush proposed to Congress that we provide an initial sum of $500 million for Mexico and $50 million for Central America to launch the Merida Initiative. And in the budget proposal now on the Hill, the President has asked for an additional $450 million for Mexico and $100 million for Central America. If these funds are appropriated, U.S. assistance will focus on drug interdiction, anti-corruption efforts, anti-gang programs, improved policing, and criminal justice reform.

These programs will provide Mexico and Central America with key interdiction tools, among them information and communication technology, inspection equipment, and transport and surveillance aircraft. They will help strengthen civilian law enforcement capacity to attack the organized crime’s supply chain by providing investigative tools, promoting information-sharing, and providing equipment to crack money-laundering and cash- smuggling cases. Finally, they will assist Mexico’s own efforts to strengthen its institutions, advance criminal justice reform, reduce corruption, and protect human rights.

Through the Merida Initiative, we intend to work with our partners to enhance law enforcement and address drug trafficking and related criminal activity in the region through:

  • Full implementation of the five parts U.S. Strategy to Combat Criminal Gangs, with a focus improved processes for repatriation and strong community action programs to prevent youth from joining gangs.
  • Support for stockpile management and destruction of small arms and light weapons in Central America.
  • Technological support to improve Mexico’s ability to deliver drug treatment and prevention services across the country.
  • Specialized anti-gang units in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to improve investigation and prosecution of dangerous gang members in the United States as well as in Central America and Mexico.

Other programs, such as training in prison management, and training for police, courts and prosecutors, will help strengthen those institutions to better confront well-financed, complex criminal organizations.

Presidents Bush and Calderon have described the Merida Initiative as a shared response to a shared problem, a problem bigger than any of us can overcome on our own. Confronting the scourges of smuggling, impunity, and crime that undermine our security requires effective, well-financed cooperation.

Working jointly, and with improved coordination and communication, the Merida Initiative’s additional resources can give Mexico and Central America the foundation to establish a new, fully integrated framework for law enforcement partnership throughout the region.

Because of our close cultural and economic ties, not to speak of geography, our own national security interests are deeply and inextricably intertwined with those of Central America and Mexico. We are fortunate today to have partners in the region who recognize the threat our societies face and who are committed to making the difficult choices to confront these challenges head on. The Merida Initiative is an important step, both practically and symbolically, towards addressing these growing challenges.

I’d like to thank the Chamber and Chairman Reyes for the invitation to be here today, and I look forward to our discussion.

Thank you.

Released on March 11, 2008

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